Wednesday’s Minnesota United match pretty much had it all: own goals, red cards, a penalty kick and, ultimately, a much-needed victory for the home team.
So much for soccer being a boring sport.
The Loons defeated the Portland Timbers 3-2 at TCF Bank Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 18,442 in their second of three matches within a one-week span.
“We created havoc and made it hectic at times to not let them feel comfortable, especially coming in here,” United forward Christian Ramirez said. “We didn’t want to let them get a rhythm at all, make sure to make it difficult on them from the start.”
The three points for United (5-9-2) were the team’s first in the month of June after enduring three consecutive shutouts and falling to the bottom of the Major League Soccer standings entering this match. Portland (7-7-3), which handed United an embarrassing 5-1 loss in the expansion team’s first match ever back in March, is a contender at the top of the Western Conference.
Despite those odds, United coach Adrian Heath said he could just tell from the noise coming from his team’s locker room ahead of the match that the result would be positive for the Loons.
“I don’t know why, I said to the staff, I fancied us tonight,” Heath said. “I thought the lads in the dressing room, the mood in the dressing room before the game, you can sense it when you’ve been in it a long time, and I thought the lads were up for the battle tonight.”
That near-tangible determination is something that hasn’t always been present for United this season, especially on the road. But at home, where United is 5-3-0, that grit is a standard.
And while a Portland comeback looked imminent many times, right-back Kevin Venegas said United knew the Portland goals were essentially gifts, and the Loons clearly were playing better.
“As a unit, when things aren’t going well or when things are going well, there’s a lot of quick turn of events, that’s when you’ve really just got to regroup and stick to the game plan,” Venegas said. “We were putting goals in, which was our game plan.”
United scored first after several close tries on set pieces when midfielder Sam Cronin crossed the ball into the box in the seventh minute and Portland defender Amobi Okugo pushed it into his own net. But Portland tied the score on midfielder Diego Valeri’s penalty kick in the 37th minute after United goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth collided with him in the box.
United struck again in the 47th minute, with Ramirez getting his team-high ninth goal. But just three minutes later, the own goal plague came back around to infect United center-back Francisco Calvo and even the score again.
Rookie forward Abu Danladi ended up with the match-winner in the 64th minute. Then he and Portland midfielder Sebastian Blanco soon both earned red cards for kicking at each other after a challenge, making both squads a man short for the last 20 minutes.
“We’re at our best when we are fired up,” Heath said. “And coming with that is incidents and decisions that go against you sometimes.”